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Klavan On The Culture

As I Was Saying … More On The Arts

June 29th, 2012 - 8:29 am

"I swear this post is not about me!"

It seems almost belligerently contrarian to put up my usual late-in-the-week post about cultural matters after a day of such immediate political consequence. So let’s get started.

I was delighted with and interested by the brief but spirited response to my post about my post about The Grey. To recap, I noted that PJMedia readers did not comment as actively about cultural matters as they did about political ones, and a number of readers offered explanations or responses. See the comments at the link. Commenter Pinky began her or his comment with “I wonder how much of this is the old Breitbart thing, that conservatives don’t engage with the culture.” And yes, that’s exactly what I was wondering as well.

Here’s a story to the point. As an artistic solitary, I was more or less shocked and confounded when I first started receiving invitations to speak. One of my earliest efforts was before a largish group of conservative college students at an event for the Reagan Ranch’s Young America’s Foundation. Well, they were college kids, so I figured they’d be interested in liberal arts stuff and I delivered a learned disquisition on the development of the idea of the individual in western culture. About halfway through, I looked up and saw a sea of glazed eyes and blank faces and realized, much to my dismay, I was dying the death. Afterward, a small handful of admiring students followed me out of the room to praise my talk. I was gratified, but asked them why I had bombed so terribly with the rest of the audience. They responded, “These are conservative college students! Except for us, they’re all business majors!”

Depressed by the experience, I went home and called a friend — the then more-or-less obscure internet curmudgeon Andrew Breitbart.

“I just tried to talk culture to a group of conservatives!” I wailed.

Andrew laughed wryly and said, “Welcome to my world.”

In the comments on my post, commenter Wemedge (speaking, I suspect, for many conservatives) put forward this rationale for being less energized by cultural discussions than political ones: “Here’s the problem: While without a doubt all that artsy-fartsy stuff enriches and deepens one’s experience as a human being, one can spend an entire lifetime, not see The Grey, and still have a pretty good life. Politics, however, touches each of us, and sometimes does so in a rather unpleasant way.”

Pinky — whom we remember from our second paragraph — enlarged upon this:  ”A person can have a fully-developed artistic life and never see The Grey. A person can’t have a fully-developed political life in the current era and not have an opinion on, say, terrorism or the budget. Talking about specific movies is like talking about specific House races or pieces of legislation. It’s impossible to keep up with all of them. I appreciate Klavan’s reviews, and it’s always interesting to see how a writer approaches various works, but I don’t have any meaningful comments unless it happens to be a work I’ve read/seen.”

I think this is a legitimate point. In general, I purposely keep things light here and comment on only the most popular and accessible works I take in and usually just to say whether I thought they were good or bad and why. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, I can understand you might not feel inspired to leave a response. But what I’m really interested in with these works are broader aesthetics of popular culture. With The Grey, for instance, I was interested that some people couldn’t enjoy an adventure film that was unrealistic and violated everything we know about survival technique. Others didn’t like it because its underlying themes conflicted with their world views. Those are reasonable responses — but possibly not as useful as others — and, in any case, well worth discussing.

Anyway, from here on, I’m going to try to get closer to those questions at the outset and see what readers contribute. I’m interested to know.

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